The 10 Oldest Fossils, and What They Say About Evolution

Wouldn’t it be cool to be able to point at a fossil and know that it’s the first, say, plant, or four-legged creature, or insect? But identifying the first anything in the fossil record is hard for a few reasons. First, the fossil record is patchy, because things only fossilize by chance, and we haven’t found all the fossils there are to find; we could find a new oldest mammal or oldest insect tomorrow. Second, scientists like to group animals by their evolutionary relationships to each other. It’s especially important for these groups to have a single ancestor. So, for example, the group “mammals” includes me, platypuses, and the ancestor we have in common, plus everything in between. When we find an ancient creature, it’s hard to know for absolute certain if we’ve found that mysterious ancestor, or just an offshoot of the ancestor’s lineage, a cousin. So what we think is the first reptile could be an animal that was related to reptiles, but wasn’t actually their ancestor at all. Finally, there’s no person in charge of declaring one fossil or another to be the official first thing of its kind. That’s left for scientists to debate, and they don’t always agree, because it’s hard to tell. Evolution is a gradual process, and there’s no easy way to distinguish the last thing that is not a bird from the first thing that is a bird. But, with all that said, here are some of the first fossils of their kind that we know of. Number one: first evidence of life. The oldest fossils are really, really old; to find them, you have to find the oldest rocks in the world. The oldest rocks in the world are in Australia, and the oldest fossils are 3.5 billion year-old bacterial colonies known as stromatolites. A stromatolite is a structure similar to the ones made by some of today’s Australian bacteria. It looks like an unassuming lump of rock. But because the bacteria grow layer by layer and trap the minerals as they do, stromatolites have a characteristic spiked pattern. These are the oldest fossils we’ve ever found, but there are traces of what could be life that go back even earlier. Rocks don’t last forever; they’re always being melted down, or smashed, or some combination of the two. But tiny crystals, called zircons, are much tougher than regular rock, and can get incorporated into new rocks when old ones are destroyed. Scientists have identified zircons from 4.1 billion years ago that contain traces of carbon, and the chemistry of this carbon is consistent with biological activity. Which is weird, because for a long time, scientists thought that life couldn’t have existed more than 3.8 billion years ago, because there were too many asteroids crashing into Earth all the time. So, if researchers confirm that these 4.1 billion year-old zircons contain traces of life, we might have to revise our view of early Earth. Number two: first vertebrate I’d really like to show you the first vertebrate known to science – you know, an animal with a backbone – but scientists actually have no idea what the first vertebrate was. When it comes to early vertebrates, the fossil record is especially spotty. The earliest vertebrates didn’t have mineralized bones, so there were no hard parts to fossilize. What few soft tissue fossils we have tend to look like squashed blobs, and blobs are difficult to interpret, even for paleontologists with 3D modelling systems. We do have a few milestone blobs: Pikaia was long thought to be the ancestor of all vertebrates, but its status isn’t universally accepted. Haikouichthys, Myllokunmingia, and Metaspriggina, all from 520 million years ago, seem to be either early vertebrates or something very close. Based on these fossils, we can guess what the first vertebrate would’ve looked like: it would’ve had eyes that faced forward and up and along the fin, along the midline of its body, it had no jaw, it was a mere few centimetres long. Pretty humble start for the diverse vertebrates we know today. Number three: first crustacean. Crustaceans are animals made up of three segments with a hard exoskeleton and eyes on stocks. These crustaceans include crabs, lobsters, and shrimp. But the earliest crustacean fossils come from a famous deposit called the Burgess Shale, which represents the huge boom of animal diversity from way back in the Cambrian period more than 505 million years ago, known as the Cambrian explosion. From it, we know that many types of animals that are still around, like crustaceans and the early ancestors of vertebrates had already evolved by half a billion years ago! That’s a long time for a group of animals to last. Of the crustaceans in the Burgess Shale, the best known is Canadaspis; we have literally thousands of specimens. This is unusually good luck as fossils go, because more fossils mean that all the interesting features are more likely to be preserved. So, scientists are quite sure this one’s a crustacean based on the structure of its head; it had eyes on stalks and a hard shell just like modern crustaceans. Number four: first land plant. The earliest known plants on land came after the earliest crustaceans, and had no stems or roots. They looked like modern liverworts, and they lived 472 million years ago. Plants didn’t always fossilize well, but the spores of these early plants were nearly indestructible. Scientists in Argentina found fossilized spores in local sediment, and when they dissolved the sediment to recover them, they found that the spores represented multiple genera, or groups of species. That means these liverworts had already had some time to evolve and diversify; they probably first appeared on land 10 or 20 million years before these spores were made, maybe even earlier. 472 million years is a surprisingly long time ago. The next oldest plant spores ever found are similar, but they’re 10 million years younger and found far from Argentina, in the Czech Republic and Saudi Arabia. Number five: first jawed fish. Jaws were a major evolutionary innovation, but both heads and backbones came first. The earliest fish with jaws were called Placoderms, and they ruled the seas between 430 and 360 million years ago. They had huge, bony plates around the outsides of their heads, making them look like armoured submarines from the front. But the armour only extended part of the way down their bodies, and their tails were bare or only lightly covered with scales. Most Placoderms had simple jaws, but there’s one that looked a little more advanced. Entelognathus, which lived 419 million years ago, evolved a jaw structure that looks like the complex arrangement found in bony fish and all their descendants. Biologists aren’t sure whether this means that Entelognathus is the ancestor of all bony fish, or if they evolved the pattern independantly from bony fish, but it does seem to be the first fish with a modern face. Number six: first insect. The oldest fossil of a creature we can be sure is an insect comes from Scotland. It’s called Rhyniognatha. Rhyniognatha lived between 407 and 396 million years ago, and it can be identified as a true insect based on the shape of its jaws. In fact, its jaws specifically resemble those of a winged insect, so it’s possible that flight had already evolved by 400 million years ago. But since the only Rhyniognatha fossil we have is partial and doesn’t include wings, we can’t be sure if it could fly. But this does mean insects probably evolved well before Rhyniognatha. We know that plants had already begun to colonize the land by the Silurian period, about 438 million years ago, and it’s likely that insects were a part of these earliest land-based ecosystems. Number seven: First tetrapod. Everything that walks on
four legs or later learned to walk onto has a common ancestor. This group of animals is called tetrapods or four-footed creatures. Many early
tetrapods look like something that’s halfway between an amphibian and a fish
which isn’t too surprising because that’s pretty much what they are. Two of the earliest tetrapods are closely related specimens that go back 375
million years: Elginerpeton and Obuchivictis. Obuchivictis was initially thought to be a fish. But analyzing its head together with Elginerpeton showed them both to be early tetrapod. But there’s evidence that
tetrapods maybe 20 million years older than these two. A set of fossilized
footprints in Poland is 395 million years old and they were made by a
four-footed creature. We don’t know much about this animal but it may have been
surprisingly big and stocky at 2.5 meters in length which probably means
it’s been walking for a while and the later fishy forms of four footed life weren’t
the first to come out of the ocean Number eight: First reptile. The first reptile was also the first amniote, a group of creatures that evolved eggs that didn’t
need to be kept in water. This allowed animals to finally cut the tie binding
them to the water and live on land completely. Reptiles, birds and mammals are all amniotes. The earliest reptile ever found is called Hylonomus. It lived 315 million years ago in what is now North America. It was small, only about 20 centimeters in length and looked more or less like a modern lizard It probably ate insects because
plant-eating tetrapods didn’t exist yet. Amniotes have probably been around since about 35 million years before Hylonomus what is the earliest one we can be
fairly confident about. Number nine: First mammal. The earliest placental mammal
ever found was a tiny shrew like creature called Juramaia. It lived
alongside the dinosaurs in the Jurassic period, a hundred sixty million years ago. Its
name means Jurassic mother. Juramaia is eutherian mammal, meaning it’s more closely related to modern mammals with fully functional placentas
than other mammals such as monotremes like the platypus or marsupials like the
Koala. Eutherians give birth to live young which mature inside the mother’s body and get the nutrition from the placenta. Marsupials give birth much
earlier and keep their young in pouches and monotremes lay aggs. Despite its name, Juramaia is probably not our direct
ancestor but a close relative. Still, the discovery of Juramaia did turn
conventional wisdom about mammal evolution on its head. Before Juramaia, the earliest known placental mammal was only 125 million years old but Juramaia came along 35 million years earlier than that. That means the split between
eutherian mammals and marsupials probably happened about a 165
million years ago That’s much earlier than we thought and
shows mammals were already evolving and diversifying in the age of the dinosaurs. Number ten: First bird. You might already know this one: it’s Archaeopteryx. Well, it’s probably,
Archaeopteryx. We’ve known about this 145 million year old animal since Darwin’s time and it became a poster child for evolution. Its fossils had clear impressions of wing feathers
like the ones Birds used to fly but it also had teeth and a bony tail It looked like the perfect transitional
form between dinosaurs and birds. But there is another animal that has a
pretty strong claim. It’s called Aurornis and has many of the same transitional
features Archaeopteryx does. It also has wings and a tail like Archaeopteryx.
Except, Aurornis was first, by 10 million years. The more dinosaurs with feathers we discover, and there are a lot, the less unique Archaeopteryx seems. The transition between dinosaurs and birds was messy and gradual. Technically, all birds are dinosaurs. So, it’s impossible to find a dividing line where they
started being birds because they never stopped being dinosaurs. Really, it’s hard
to identify the first of anything but it’s worth trying to do it anyway
because it gives us insight into when and how life evolved on Earth. And if you
want to learn more about the history of life on Earth, be on the lookout for upcoming

100 thoughts on “The 10 Oldest Fossils, and What They Say About Evolution”

  1. This guy is just spitting out numbers 556 million years ago 433 million years ago lmfaooooo this guy doesn't know his ass from his mouth

  2. My grandma is the older fossil I know. She's getting hard like a rock. My Dad punched her in the face yesterday and only her glasses broke.

  3. I wouldn't believe a word a dude said with a yellow tip on his (or her) head.

    Since he or she reads from a script, makes it more understandable.

  4. I have a question?? How did a sperm evolve? With the egg in the female didn`t they ( sperm) have to be working from day one? In evulsion you lose what you don`t need. So I ask how  did it happen and how many thousands of years did it take. Then after you explain that how did an egg come along on the other half to match that sperm in the other being. Honest Question…

  5. You guys edit out and tighten up all the dialog so that even if there the slightest gap we are going to lose interest.. Consequently we are we are rushing absorb.. How about a human 2 second pause every once in a while.

  6. This guy is knows his stuff. Check my Carboniferous fossils – type bleikrsfossils or[email protected]/
    . Comments welcome.
    I'm going to have some Kentucky Fried Dinosaur for lunch.

  7. why are the entire dinosaur group called reptiles? Modern reptiles are cold blooded. It is theorized that dinosaurs evolved into birds, warm-blooded(!)

  8. Incredible discoveries, if you are interested in fossils my channel is dedicated to them:) from dinosaur teeth, to ancient Cretaceous Amber, feel free to take a look, thanks:)

  9. This is to much of “something like”, “possible”, “not clear/ difficult to tell”. Guys! Pleaaasse just consider that a intelligent designer(god) created sth so detailed and fragile like life! Don’t be angry if i insult your way of thinking. Just watch a few videos by guys like Kent Hovind. Don’t you feel lied to if scientists change their minds on origin of life, age of earth etc. every few years? And how do you even name the age of a fossil? Throwing with millions of years seems too easy! A flood explains that much better. Please rethink your evidence if there is some. Search for creationists “debunking” your opinion. If what they say doesn’t make sense to you, you could still go on with the knowledge of what the “other side” thinks. Aaaand: Kent Hovind is giving away $250k if you send him scientific proof for evolution:). Thank you so much for reading and I hope the things you WANT to be true hold you back from finding out the truth/ what makes the most sense.

  10. Ok so at the kt boundary there are zero dinos above it . this is how we know it was the end of the dinos. So when ppl say birds came from dumps how can that be since they all wiped out 26m yag? Small tiny mammals survived hence their evolutionary success and the age of mammals . so did some dinos survive to become birds?

  11. All just opinions with no way of determination of the origin of these animals. Just a bunch of guesses and not empirical science.

  12. We have so many contenders for first bird that it’s impossible to pick. Anchiornis, Aurornis, Xiaotingia, Jurapteryx, Archaeopteryx, and many more

  13. How do we know at what rate these early simple life forms evolved? I mean it seems like a giant assumption to make that evolution is temporaly linear, especially considering certain viruses, bacteria, but even insects or reptiles that presented rapid evolution on a small time scale… I'm not making a strawman argument out of this, am I?

  14. Religions are billion dollar per year scams that repeat stories in mythology for donation dollars. Invisible gods, devils, and demons only exist in mythology but the dishonest religions claim they really exist then beg their followers to donate 10% of their money to "spread the good word". By "spreading the good word" they gain more donating members (just like pyramid schemes). Religions start by indoctrinating (grooming) children with their beliefs in an INVISIBLE "god" and then when the children reach adulthood and begin working they begin donating money every Sunday and continue donating money every Sunday until they die. So 18 to 20 years of grooming nets 50 to 60 years of donating. It's all about making a shitload of untraceable TAX EXEMPT money for the owners of the churches while the gullible members never realize their INVISIBLE "god" only exists in MYTHOLOGY and they're being scammed out of their money.

  15. The Mayans told us the universe exploded 14 billion years ago. If life started 4.1 billion years ago in Australia, and we started growing feathers 160 million years ago, then something happened the first 10 billion years, between the initial explosion, and the first life to start growing in Australia!

  16. i only noticed a lil bit earlier even tho iv been a fan of this channels for a looooong time and of all you presenters but dayumn bro you talk faaaaaast lmao its all good tho just means more info faster

  17. u're very wrong about mammals… they appeared more or less with the dinosaurs during the triassic.
    try to do a little research next time.

  18. If you say evolution is true, then make a video of when the animals 'anciesters' changed into us humans. If the human started with fish, it doesn't make sense because why don't we see humans appear from sea? Or even from bushes. Scientists said that us humans came from the fish called 'coelcoath' but they are not extinct. A group of people have discovered the coelcoath from witch scientists said life came frim but if you google the coelcoath fish and put it against one of the fossils nothing has change. Respond if you do believe in evolution…. I don't

  19. They are not able to notice that oil and coal are a big scale organic deposits of a one short time major catastrophic events.They all was " washed "up,gathered together and buried under grownd.The origin of life is not the material world,as academic idiots claims,recently NDE studies shows that the consciousness exist out of the body.Is there no consciousness( no matter if rudimentary or elevated) ,there is no life.

  20. There is no scientific evidence whatsoever that any of these living plants and animals ever existed. None, zero. This is worse than science fiction, at least the writers of science fiction do not claim to write scientific truth. I find this interesting, and amusing, as far as human imagination to make things up. But to sell this as scientific is a fraud, it is as bad as fake news.

  21. Wouldn't the first "vertebrate" examples given be more accurately classified as the first chordates? I thought the definition of vertebrate required the spinal cord to be surrounded by bony vertebrae, or at least cartilage.

  22. Human, monkey, mammal, reptile, amphibian, fish, cell……where did life come from? Life comes from life. things produce their own kind. Macro evolution is an impossibility.

  23. There is a very old Fossil Park in a small village of India which is abaout 60 miles (120 km) from the Heritage city of Varanasi,India. The park is named Salkhan Fossil Park in the Kaimoor Wildlife Sanctuary / Vindhyan Range of northern India. It houses tree fossils which are in petrified tree stumps (stromatolites). They appear in round/oval stony formations spread in 25 hectares (3 parts) dating approximately 1400 millions years ( Proterozoic period).

    There are many rock shelter paintings (as many as 250 sites) around this place which are close to water falls. These rock shelter paintings / figures use red paint/color depicting hunting and domesticated animals like elephants and horses.

    We Indian Studio Destination Management Company based in Varanasi, India conduct day excursions from varanasi to Salkhan and Vindhyan area.Contact us on [email protected] or visit

  24. I got GCU ad beofer the video, lol, a christian "college" ad in front of a science video about evolution, lol, the irony.

  25. The earth isn’t older 7000 years. We have a book that tells us this. Why do people say it’s millions of years with no proof?This is the only record we have. The Torah!

  26. I got over 1000 pleases and know wear the pots at. Good investment bissnesse if interested in teaming me 52 6611146686

  27. Late to the party but with a question. Why would biologists be fixated on precise breakoff points, like a first this or first that, well aware of evolution being a process so gradual that it's unlikely to offer such a thing?

  28. I love when they try to sound intelligent in the opening, the first reptile might not be a reptile at all but related to reptiles lol…..They have a common ancestor so this is like Reptiles uncle.

  29. The oldest rocks in the world? Where do rocks come from? Did a mommy rock and a daddy rock get together after a rock concert? Did the daddy rock ROCK her world? Did they name the babies pebbles? 3.5 Billion years ago some Aussie Rocks got it on and boom…..Boulder Colorado.

  30. It's funny that the first vertebra seem to have been water dwellers. One would expect that from crustaceans but let me drop this in here real quick: Genesis 1:20 "And God said, Let the waters bring forth abundantly the moving creature that hath life, and fowl that may fly above the earth in the open firmament of heaven."

  31. If Jaws were a major evolutionary innovation why does most creatures with the exception of just a few have jaws though they would have been separate from each other by this point in "evolution"?

  32. Mr. Aranda presents good stuff, and I guess it's my fault that I get annoyd of all this hand waving. One second pause between the sentences might also be a good thing. But that's me.

  33. It's so nice to see a well-researched top 10 video about paleontology with appropriate background information about the field.

  34. He barely has time to finish his sentence before he starts a new sentence, poor video editing. Or is he worried that the viewers will shut down the video if there's one second of silence?

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